Providers plead for help

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times

The region’s accommodation providers have implored the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River to offer a six-month ratings freeze at a bare minimum.

Registered Accommodation Providers Margaret River Region spokeswoman Debbie Noonan said the sector was reeling from mass cancellations stemming from COVID-19.

Dozens of operators had shut down and major employers had cut back as they gauge the economic fallout from the biggest challenge to the region’s economy.

In a letter to councillors last week, Ms Noonan asked for not rates to be levied for “at least six months”. “All penalties and interest should also be waived for the next two rate periods for all businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic within the shire.”

Providers were now losing money and expected few bookings this year.

“Many of our members also find themselves in debt having to refund many tens of thousands of dollars in cancelled bookings, leaving us all in a very vulnerable position moving forward,” she said.

Shire chief executive Stephanie Addison-Brown said greater clarity on ratings would be known as the 2020-21 budget preparations came into focus. “Full workings of rates-relief modelling, to ensure the sustainability of the options, are being prioritised by staff,” she told the Times.

“These modelled options will be considered by council as part of draft budget deliberation in June/July 2020.”

“The community will be kept informed as soon as an outcome has been determined.”

Last month, councillors voted to establish a $2 million community care fund and investigate a zero per cent rate increase for the next financial year and options for rates reductions.

Private Properties owner David Moyes told the Times his company had lost all its short-term bookings.

“We are still fielding a few requests from people stranded here by the local, interstate and international travel restrictions, but that’s about it,” he said.

“My wife and I will manage our business from home with a few senior staff on part-time duties for the next few weeks – but most of our 38 staff will be out of a job.”

Operators hoped once the regional travel bans were lifted, Perth travellers might offer a lifeline.

Mrs Noonan said all commercial businesses needed the rates relief.

“It is vital to our tourism region that our businesses are supported during this time, or we will find when we have travellers returning to our region, there will be nothing to return to,” she said.

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